A taste of the real world

Some students are taking the time before committing to college to travel or work. The real life experiences these students gained helped many of them expand their understanding of the world before they entered an academic environment.

Freshmen Neal Drew decided to take a year off after high school to work before coming to GW. He worked for an AmeriCorps program, Violence Protection and Conflict Resolution, in Boston. The program sends volunteers to elementary schools to tutor children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Besides tutoring students in all subjects, volunteers become big brothers and sisters for the children. Drew tutored at a school in a low-income section of Boston.

Drew said many factors motivated his decision to take a year off. Unsure if wanted to go to college, Drew said that he did not know the area he lived in well and wanted to get a better sense of his home city. Because Boston is a big city, Drew said he never had the chance to experience all of its neighborhoods.

I learned about a community in Boston I had never imagined, he said. I met people I would have never met otherwise.

Working with the children at the school is what Drew found most rewarding about the AmeriCorps program, he said. He said he learned just as much from the children as he taught them, but it was important to create a foundation of trust before they would listen and learn from him. He said he hopes the children he worked with receive the same benefits he has, including a good college education.

Drew said the year off before college put his college career in perspective.

The curriculum seems less important than the friendships I made, Drew said. (The job) was the best decision, whether it was by accident or by fate. My love of children made every bad day worth it.

Drew said the trade off from taking a year off is that he feels uncomfortable interacting with other students his age. He said he feels he is in a different phase of life them most other freshman.

Although Drew does not know what he wants to do after graduating from GW, he said he wants to be involved with some form of social work.

Sophomore Emily Barson spent a year in Israel after graduating from high school in 1998. A program called Young Judaea allowed Barson to spend three months studying, three months volunteering at elementary schools, one month living with an Israeli family and one month on a kibbutz.

Barson said she was unsure whether she wanted to go straight to college after high school, and the Young Judaea program sounded interesting because the idea of living overseas and experiencing a different culture fascinated her. In Israel Barson met many different people and immersed herself in a different society, giving her a different perspective on other cultures, she said.

Barson said she has no regrets about taking the trip. Many people ask her if it bothers her that she will end up graduating a year after she is supposed to, but Baron said the experience was well worth the inconvenience of graduating late.

Sophomore Aron Kuehnemann also took a year off after high school to travel the world. He bought a United Airlines package for $3,000 that took him to 12 destinations around Europe and Asia. Kuehnemann said he visited many other places traveling by boat and train. He saw a multitude of countries in Europe and Asia including Poland, Austria, Hungary, India, China and Japan.

Kuehnemann said he was inspired to travel the world from the previous experience living in Bali, Indonesia. He visited Bali the summer of his junior year in high school and loved it so much that he decided to stay for a year.

I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to do it again, he said.

Kuehnemann said he spent about two weeks in most countries. Going from country to country, he had to adjust quickly to the different cultures.

(There were) so many different cultures, and so many different voices, smells, sights and sounds that quickly it all starts to blend, but not in a bad way, Kuehnemann said. Everything starts to make sense in terms of getting rid of those boundaries that we all see in people, so that everyone seemed a lot more human.

Kuehnemann said he does not regret taking time off before college, and said he almost did come back. He plans to make a similar trip after he finishes studying at GW, he said. Kuehnemann said his traveling experience has made his education more relevant and he now recognizes what school means in the grand scheme of things.

I’m here to learn, not just for the grades, Kuehnemann said. It puts things in perspective and enhances the educational experience.

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